ISLAMABAD: The latest intrigue on Pakistan’s political landscape is the issue of a letter brandished by Prime Minister Imran Khan at a rally on March 27, aptly named the Lettergate by commentators.
In his speech, Khan claimed that he is in possession of a written threat from foreign elements against his government, adding that some people within Pakistan were working to undermine him. The prime minister refrained from commenting further on this issue, fuelling rumours and speculation about the content and authenticity of this letter.
A senior government official has confirmed to The News that the prime minister's assessment is based on a telegram sent by Asad Majeed Khan, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States, to Islamabad. The official, requesting anonymity, told The News that the telegram was received in Islamabad on March 7, a day before the opposition requestioned the National Assembly for a vote of no-confidence against Prime Minister Imran Khan.
“This telegram message is real. Although, its contents have not been shared, the message was that as long as the incumbent government is in power, there can be no substantial change in relations,” he said. The official was apparently referring to US-Pakistan relations, since the letter allegedly originated from Washington.
Most senior officials in Islamabad are extremely tightlipped about exact contents of the letter. However, it is suggested that the letter contains a message from high-ranking US officials regarding the conduct of Khan’s government towards the United States. “I assume it is a diplomatic cable from Ambassador Khan, based on his interaction with some US authorities,” a diplomatic source told The News.
The letter apparently contains direct quotes of US officials recorded by Ambassador Khan. However, there is no official confirmation on this yet. Sources are unsure under what circumstances the meeting took place which then initiated the critical cable from Pakistan’s ambassador to the US. Diplomatic norms suggest if an ambassador is called for a rematch, a non paper is usually attached with it by the host country.
Ambassador Khan left the United States last week after finishing his stint as the ambassador and multiple attempts to contact him have not yet materialized.
The recent downward trend in relations between Pakistan and the United States may provide some clues about the context of this letter. Donald Trump, President Joe Biden’s predecessor, had described Imran Khan as a “good friend” and a “great athlete, very popular in Pakistan.”
However, it seems that Biden does not share this view; this is underscored by the fact that the US president has not called the Pakistani prime minister since he assumed office in January 2021. The absence of this important phone call has been hotly debated and discussed in Pakistan; why has it not yet materialised and what could be the reason behind it?
Some diplomats believe that it is difficult for Prime Minister Imran Khan to digest this diplomatic snub from the president of the United States, as Khan himself is an international celebrity in his own right. Diplomats have also been trying to ascertain why PM Khan continues to criticise Washington and its policies in public in recent months. His interviews with Judy Wordsworth and Jonathan Swan, where he openly criticised the United States policies during the War on Terror and Afghanistan chaotic exit, did not go unnoticed by policymakers in Washington. The criticism certainly did not please these policymakers.
Despite Khan’s public criticism, the United States has refrained from expressing its position in public, but has continued to extend support and cooperation to Pakistan in a myriad of ways. Pakistan was a major recipient of Covid-19 vaccines from the United States over the past few months. Earlier in February, Pakistan Air Force and the US Air Force also carried out a joint training exercise for the first time in three years, called Falcon Talon 2022. Pakistan hosted the exercise in which Pakistani and American airmen operated F-16s side by side. At the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) summit hosted by Pakistan in March, United States Under Secretary Uzra Zeya was present for the Council of Foreign Ministers conference and held bilateral talks with Pakistani officials.
With this context, both opposition and security officials have cast doubts whether the contents of the letter are grounded in facts. And if so, why such a letter is not presented before the high-powered National Security Committee of the cabinet. Citing national security concerns, government officials are unwilling to bring the letter under public scrutiny, but say that the prime minister would present it to the chief justice of Pakistan. Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari tweeted that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s independent foreign policy “does not sit well with those powers which have viewed Pakistan as a state where leaders are subservient to foreign diktat. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged because of his independent foreign policy. Regime change is a frequent tool of powerful states and allied vested interests from within.” She also claimed that former premier Nawaz Sharif knew and was part of the conspiracy and questioned how many other opposition members knew about it.
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